Latest GPD Group News
Mar 25, 2018
By JUDY STRINGER Photo by Contributed rendering GPD Group helped Akron secure a federal grant for its Downtown Promenade Project for South Main Street, and the company is helping the city determine what the work will encompass. This rendering shows some of the possibilities. From the $14.5 million reconstruction of South Main Street through downtown Akron to the second phase of Cleveland's $331 million Opportunity Corridor, GPD Group has a hand in some of the region's highest-profile construction projects. The Akron firm is designing an artists' village out of shipping containers in the Rubber City, drafting the redevelopment of Berea's Front Street, rehabilitating century-old sewer lines for Cleveland Water Pollution Control and envisioning a new city center for Streetsboro — to name a few of its public projects — all while engaged in various stages of more than a dozen planned or proposed new school buildings. And that's just in Northeast Ohio. GPD's retail division has re-engineered RaceTrac's gasoline convenience stores, which span 12 Southeast states, and completed more than 550 Taco Bell remodels or new construction projects across the country. Other retail clients include Jo-Ann Fabrics, Jack in the Box and PNC. Its telecommunication group has designed and installed cell towers and antennas for the nation's largest coverage providers. "We do telecom and retail projects now in all 50 states," said GPD president Darrin Kotecki. "This is a much different firm than it was 30 year ago, and it has been a very fun ride." GPD actually dates back to 1961, when Cordell Glaus, Bruce Pyle, Bob Schomer, Mel Burns and Bill DeHaven opened an engineering office on Akron-Peninsula Road. Early business focused on power transmission, roadwork design "and all that unsexy infrastructure stuff," Kotecki said. In 1986, the partners sold the business to employees in a broad-based ownership model that GPD maintains today. Three years later — the same year Kotecki joined the company as a civil engineer — GPD moved into downtown Akron's Canal Place complex. It had about 36 employees at the time, he said. Annual revenue was south of $2 million. Today, GPD has roughly 675 employees, a number that will balloon to 725 during the bustling summer construction months. The firm brought in $105 million in 2017 and recently topped two Crain's lists ranking the region's largest engineering companies and its largest architectural firms . Akron city engineer James Hewitt attributes much of the company's success to employee ownership. About 96% of GPD's employees own a piece of the company, according to Kotecki. No one, however, can own more than 4%. In his 30-year career with the city, Hewitt has worked with GPD on dozens of projects, from skywalks and bridges to water plants and sewer basins. Most recently, GPD assisted in preparing and drafting applications for a federal grant that Akron ultimately won for its Downtown Promenade Project and the company is "now working with us to determine what we want the road to look like," he said. "They have a good, quality staff," Hewitt added, "and as an employee-owned company, they take great pride in ownership of the product that they deliver because it is their company." Another big factor is the company's growing diversification. Over the years, GPD increased its presence in the education, retail and telecommunications sectors. In fact, Kotecki said, his firm's relationship with the wireless industry dates to the first cellular networks in the 1980s. Most recently, it added an energy division focused on renewables. The firm also transitioned from what Kotecki calls a "Big E" — mostly made up of engineers — to a more balanced engineering and architectural play. About 60% of its work today is engineering, while the other 40% is architecture, and its professional base of engineers versus architects reflects that mix, he said. In addition, GPD has been "fortunate," according to Kotecki, to have some big-name clients in its corner. For example, a longstanding partnership with FirstEnergy Corp., which is in the midst of an infrastructure upgrade that will cost upward of $700 million, has helped propel GPD's power group. "We are assisting in the design and engineering of substations and transmission lines," he said. "That has been an important growth area for us." Pencil pushers GPD's current growth strategy involves expanding into new geographical markets, particularly with public projects. Kotecki said the retail and telecom work is national, but the public works and education contracts are predominately Ohio-based. It's had some early success winning water utility bids in Louisville, Ky. Kotecki, however, is especially encouraged with GPD's fledgling foothold in Houston. "The 12th-largest school district in Greater Houston is the size of Cleveland, Akron and Columbus added together," he said. "There are 100,000 kids, and that is their 12th-largest." Last summer, GPD acquired SBWV Architects, a private Houston firm with a strong educational focus. Kotecki said the union gives his company more visibility in the booming Southeast Texas school-building market. In Ohio, districts add a new school maybe every 50 years, he said. New construction here typically replaces an aging structure. In the Houston area, however, districts are growing so fast they are building new schools — not replacement schools — every year. Such ripe territory will allow GPD to expand its Houston office quickly and eventually advance roadway and utility work there as well, Kotecki said. The Rubber City firm is also in the process of launching a new practice to complete for federal contracts. "We like to grow not for the sake of growing in size but to create opportunities for all of our employees," Kotecki said, "and if we are going to do that on public side of the business, we need to be in more than one state." MORNING ROUNDUP Business headlines from Crain's Cleveland Business and other Ohio newspapers — delivered FREE to your inbox every morning. Sign up for the Morning Newsletter.